Heidi Specker says photography is contemporary in scope and a constantly evolving media

I greet photographer Heidi Specker with some hesitation. She is one of Germany's leading contemporary photographers whose body of work would fill up five pages, and I doubt if the list of questions I have prepared is interesting enough. But I relax as soon as she asks me: “Do you have any knowledge on contemporary photography?” I reply: “Not much”. The policy of honesty works as she starts explaining in detail the history of photography.

Heidi was in the city this month to conduct a workshop with a select group of talented photographers from across India. The workshop, titled “Another World”, sought to offer different ways of capturing an image.

“Photography is a recent tradition, unlike painting and other forms of art, so its scope is contemporary. In Germany, contemporary photography was recognised as an art form in the 1970s. Germany has ten academies dedicated to teaching photography. In India, from what I have observed, representative photography is important…” mid-sentence, Heidi asks one of her students if there are any photography colleges. He mentions a couple of colleges and Heidi's surprise at the answer is evident when she says: “I think there should be more exclusive photography colleges here!”

Heidi is a careful planner and believes that great photography is that which is evocative of the local. “Ideating is important for me. Only after deciding on the subject and location I want to photograph do I connect emotionally with it. Of course, at times, one may conceive a great concept, but fail in capturing powerful images.”

Photography is a dynamic media, subject to experimentation. There are generally two opposing positions on photography: the traditionalist's view that an image ought not to be tampered with advanced computer techniques and the other of the modernist who contends that editing techniques are necessary to enhance an image. To this contention, Heidi shrugs and says: “Photography is a constantly changing media, there's no sense in being stuck in the 1920s. It started with black-and-white and big cameras, then came coloured photography and Polaroids and now digital photography is in vogue.”

Heidi is influenced by music, literature and poetry. “Even Henri Cartier Bresson had writers and artists as friends, not photographers.” Before she takes her leave, Heidi adds: “I would like to work more on portraits.”